July 29, 2019
Indian Divide, New Mexico
As I was walking up the driveway back to the house this morning, I heard a sharp rattle. I ducked away from it instinctively, as I am well-schooled on the practice. Rattlesnakes and I have been in residence with each other for years, and they are to be taken seriously. If they are gracious enough to warn us of their presence, so they are as likely to coil and strike as they are to flee. This one slid away a few feet, and then paused near the edge of the pile of branches I have yet to burn. I froze for a moment, started towards the porch and then recalled that the shovel, ever ready for such moments, was now in the shed. I had just recently moved it to keep the handle from getting weathered, and now I needed it quickly.
I walked briskly to the shed, giving the snake berth so she would remain still. I quietly returned and took a quick stab at her, but too far back from her head to be of any harm. She thought to flee into the pile of branches but then coiled instead, her head flattened menacingly and her rattles shaking vigorously. Though I chopped at her with the sharp blade of the shovel her body was so thick that my blows bounced back and she fled through the fence and under a nearby bush. I might have let her go and hoped she would die, but I knew better, these snakes are hard to kill. Knowing that just yesterday I was all over the yard with my nine year old grandson made the necessity of her death even stronger. If I had nearly stepped on her and been spared, young Jeremy may not have been so lucky! One of my greatest concerns is getting snake bit, my concern for that little boy is one hundred fold!
I followed the rattle of the snake to the bush and prodded her into view. Not having the option to flee the snake held her ground and came towards me instead. I took more time now, having calmed myself into focus, and soon pinned her head firmly with the sharp edge of the shovel and severed it with the pressure of my foot. Even that took several attempts, and that was at the narrowest part of her body. At the widest berth she was five inches around, large, but not the largest I have killed here. In length she was as long as the shovel, which is nearly as tall as me, all five foot of it. The relief I felt when she was dead was complete, and I was glad she had not escaped. I will skin her here in a few minutes and stretch her skin on a board. If she would also make a tasty morsel for dinner, I will pass. I have eaten snake before and if it was tolerable, it is far from being my favorite, an inherent repulsion perhaps.
The Rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes have many different symbolisms to various cultures. I find it ironic that this is the second time that I have encountered a rattlesnake in my path while in the process of moving back home to this spot, and just thirty feet from the last time. The first encounter was in 2005, when I had just arrived back home from Oklahoma after an extended absence. I was greeted in much the same way as I was yesterday. Because of that I am looking for a reason beyond the coincidence. I have killed four snakes here over a sixteen year period, so it is not an everyday occurrence, even if they are plentiful enough in the area. The generic symbolism is rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing. I am ok with that definition, and it would be easy to accept that as I am in fact in a process of rebirth, transformation and healing. Another meaning speaks to alertness to warnings from others, respect for boundaries, and offering them courtesy as they make their passage, as well as offering them warnings before we strike. Alternatively, the rattlesnake may mean an increase of the activity of the spirits in our lives, heightening our senses and requiring we pay close attention to our senses. This guidance certainly served me well this morning.
The other meaning is this, and so applicable to my present circumstance. Not long ago a coworker, who was already a threat to me, sent me a picture of a rattlesnake he had killed just outside the door where we worked. His message said, “Be careful!” My gut feeling was that the warning went far deeper than the immediate circumstance, and I made note of the same. My instincts proved correct, and that is much of why I am moving home, again. The meaning I just read said, ‘ The rattlesnake appearing before you is a message that, you are aware of some unforeseen or hidden dangers and you have avoided them with dignity and grace, and is a message that as your reward, you will receive some good fortune, that is to enter your life immediately.’ How could I not embrace that guidance, or not feel that such energy is already in motion in my life, as I truly believe that it is.
I will take all of this guidance with great seriousness, and go forward from here with a greater measure of caution, as I have in the past. In 2005 I learned much of the same lesson, and diligently watched where my feet were placed. Ironically enough, in that instance I was led to a reward. The very same day of that encounter, having decided to walk up the mountain in spite of the newly discovered danger, I climbed the hill and walked carefully, with my eyes more clearly directed towards the ground that before. I came upon a flat rock decorated with a most beautiful petroglyph, and dubbed it a prayer stone for the placement of its pictures. I still visit it today. I also discovered, over time, how that rock tied together two other sets of petroglyphs, some ancient markers and messages I can only wonder about in these modern times. I still feel blessed to have been led to each and every one of them.
I go forward with those blessings in my heart as I begin this new phase of my life. I have been warned and affirmed, all in one step. I regret having had to kill the messenger, as she meant me no harm, and even warned me away from the danger. I should respect that, but I also had no alternative at the moment. Just yesterday I walked all over the yard, crossing that same location, in the company of my nine year old grandson. If I had been bitten, it would have been regrettable, if he had been bitten, it would have been tragic! I am most unwilling to risk either alternative.
Just recently, while I was in California, I was taught a valuable lesson on how to capture and handle a rattlesnake without doing it harm. I reflected on that lesson after I had killed the one I encountered, having acted fully out of instinct and past experience. I have always killed the snakes in my yard. I considered the fact that I may well have captured her and set her free elsewhere had I had the tools, and I think I will prepare for the possibility of doing so next time. Given the symbolism of the rattlesnake, and the fact that she warned me fully, and had no desire to wage battle, my mindset has been altered. I would not have killed the messenger, had I had another means of removing her from the yard. I will prepare to offer that respect, should I be visited again. I see no harm in choosing to do so. I have been blessed, and she deserved the same.